Nearly two years after a pair of hurricanes rocked Puerto Rico, killing thousands, traces of Washington’s ill-fated relief project still litter the country. Aerial photos captured by the AFP news agency reveal a veritable ocean of waste: countless water bottles heaped onto pallets on farmland near the city of San Juan.
Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, the deadliest storm to hit the country in decades. The disaster caused an estimated $100 billion in damage and left nearly 3,000 dead. Maria hit just weeks after Hurricane Irma, which also caused deaths and extensive damage.
A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), one of the bodies tasked with overseeing disaster relief in Puerto Rico after the storms, said the water is expired surplus, and that the agency is currently in the process of disposing of the bottles.
“Following its response to the storms affecting the Caribbean area, FEMA had a surplus of water in its inventories that is now near or passed their expiration dates,” a FEMA representative told CBS in a statement.
The agency added that it had contracted with a third party to dispose of the expired water, and said “this process is underway … and is on target for September 2019 completion.”
It is unclear at what point the bottles expired, how long they have languished in the field, or what entity was hired to dispose of them.
Some Puerto Ricans have voiced their anger and disappointment after the discovery.
“What is frustrating about the water scandal” is “that the government hid those packages from the people,” one person told CBS’s David Begnaud, adding that many were forced to purchase overpriced water from stores in the wake of the storms.
“Outrageous!” another Puerto Rican told Begnaud. “My heart breaks knowing there were people who died of dehydration/diseases from polluted water while all of this was sitting around.”
Last year, a similar stockpile of unused water was discovered on an airport runway near the town of Ceiba, estimated by some to be up to a million bottles, stoking outrage from some of the aid workers who struggled to get supplies into the hands of desperate hurricane victims.
While US President Donald Trump hailed the multi-billion dollar American relief effort as an “incredible success,” the administration came under fire for being slow to act, and even FEMA itself admitted to an inadequate response to the crisis, in an internal report.
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